It’s been almost five years since my daughter made her way into this world, and almost three years since my son arrived. If you add ten months of my first pregnancy, that’s almost six full years of not being able to identify with my former, pre-kid self. If you assume, on top of this, that each year in parenting is kind of like dog years because of how fast it goes, and how deeply you become inundated in the weeds of motherhood, it feels like my pre-kid self was lost a lifetime ago.
I’m no PhD in psychology, but motherhood has got to be the most complicated identity that there is. One day, when you birth your first child, you go from being “You” to being “Mom.” No matter how you choose to raise your kids, whether you are a working parent or stay-at-home-parent, your life all of a sudden is all about your kids. They are on your mind 24/7 whether you’re physically with them or not. Your kids are usually the first people you wake up to in the morning, and the last people you see at night. Finding time to yourself as a mother is so limited that you’ve forgotten what it’s like. And all of the things that made you, “you,” before having kids, have either disappeared, or have been swept under the massive rug of your new identity of Mom. When your primary identity revolves around raising small humans, where does your sense of self go?
The past six years have turned me into a shell of my former self. I look back to who I was before kids, and I can barely remember her. I distinctly remember going to an outdoor pool one summer before kids, and doing one of my favourite things – swimming some laps with a good friend. Although each of us were no longer competitive athletes by that point, we were also not yet mothers. The freedom of being able to connect with the water on a gorgeous, sunny day really stood out to me in the moment. As I felt the fresh breeze on my face between laps, said to my friend: “You know, once we have kids, we won’t be able to do this anymore. At least not spontaneously.” Now I know, from experiencing motherhood, that this is the unadulterated truth.
Some of my best memories in life are comprised of spontaneous adventures and last minute decisions. In my professional life, I am an organized, deliberate, borderline OCD planner. In my social life, or for anything that involves a hobby, however, planning always feels too overwhelming. These are the areas of life that allow you to disconnect, let loose, enjoy. These are the areas of life that allow You to be You. Pre-kids, last minute outings were my life. Last minute bike rides. Last minute drinks with colleagues. Last minute outings with neighbours or friends. Last minute road trips. Last minute travel. When I felt like doing something, I just did it – no consulting, planning, or pouring any energy into figuring things out. Spontaneous decisions always took the pressure off. As a parent, however, planning has always felt necessary. Day trip? We need to pack for an entire army, plan for snacks, plan for nap times, plan our departure, plan our pee stops, plan for leaving at an appropriate time to get the kids home before they become overtired monsters and the rails fall off, and even plan for help when we need it.
Most of the time, it’s just easier to stay home.
Everything that represented “fun” to me, before kids, was spontaneous. I’ve been reflecting lately that two of things I seem to value most in life, freedom and independence, lie in stark contrast to raising small children. Yet, my freedom and independence have been traded for the two best things that ever happened to me – my daughter and my son. It’s a mind-bending dichotomy, really – to know that the freedom and independence that made up so much of my former self, has been replaced by an identity that I wouldn’t trade for the world: Mom.
The identity of Mom fuels me with overwhelming, all-consuming love and pride, but it also makes me feel less fun, less gregarious, less connected with other adults. On a rare night out with my husband, I typically don’t have much to talk about except for our kids. When out with work colleagues, I feel like I’d rather not talk about work – I’d rather just do the work, so I’ll probably ending up talking about their kids or mine. My hobbies feel few and far between these days so that’s not really a topic of conversation. Most of my friends have kids – so what do you think we talk about when we’re together? Kids. Kids. Always the kids.
Motherhood has torn me into pieces and has simultaneously made me more whole than I could have ever imagined.
I’ve been reflecting on this for the past year, trying to find ways to connect my old identity with my new identity. What made me happy before my kids were my primary source of happiness? How can I put some of those pieces back together? Is it even possible to put those pieces together when I already feel so full?
In this reflection, I’m just starting to access some of those things – with inspiration from my kids, no less. When my daughter started school this year, every day, I witnessed her beaming with excitement in the school playground. She was so lit up, she could not wait to get her day started. I watched my son’s over-the-top happy reaction with every new experience and realized, that spontaneity still needs to be a part of my life. I thought to myself: I need to find that thing, that outlet, that part of my former self that makes me as happy as these kids, and integrates my former self into Motherhood.
I’ve found writing again. It’s the one outlet that’s been a constant. Writing is cathartic, therapeutic, and connecting. Writing is freedom and independence. It’s taking shared emotions that are felt by so many of us, and putting them on a page. It’s finding the time that I tell myself I don’t have, no matter what it takes. It’s working on evenings and weekends quite often so I can make the time for my kids and the things I want to do during the day. As I write this, my kids, who are largely home for the summer, have been in no less than three arguments. My son has wanted me to pick me up no less than five times. My dog wants to be let out. My client is calling and texting me. My son needs to pee. But you know what?? Everything is fine. My kids are learning that when Mommy is doing something, they have to sort out their own disagreements. They just solved a problem together, cleaned up their mess, and are now sitting quietly. As I write this, I’m embracing the loving hugs they want to give me. I’m embracing the colouring projects they want to show me, rather than feeling interrupted. I’m fetching all the snacks they are asking for, without getting distracted from what I want to be doing here. I’m responding to my client and answering his questions, and then coming back to this piece. I’m learning, that even though this particular blog entry took me more than three times longer than what it should have, all is good.
Finding spontaneity again is manifesting itself in an entirely different way. Spontaneous, when I have a day off, feels like deciding to do something last minute with the kids, and not worrying about the outcome at the end of the day. It’s strapping the kids in their chariot, putting on my headphones for some me-time, and running them to splash pads, beaches and ice cream cones across the city. It’s taking the chance of brining them to a restaurant when they’re overtired so we don’t have to worry about doing dishes. It’s not only observing the delight in their faces as they take in all these new experiences, but finding sincere delight in my own mind, because I will never get these days back.
I don’t know if I will ever have this identity thing fully figured out, but I’m trying. This past year feels like more like Version 2.0 of myself – the part where I get to connect a small part of my former self with what will now always be my number one identity: Mom.